SuperQuest 1989 - 1995: Research and Evaluation

June 1, 1996

Rapid advances in computational science have presented challenges to science and mathematics education at the secondary level. SuperQuest, a National Science Foundation funded program, was designed to bring computational tools and techniques to high school students and their teachers, with an ultimate goal of integrating computational science into the high school curriculum.

For six years, SuperQuest conducted a national competition. Teams of students and their teacher-coaches proposed significant research problems that required computational science for their solution. The winning teams were selected by a national review committee. Winners attended three-week summer institutes at the participating SuperQuest Centers, where they learned how to use high performance computing and visualization tools to solve their scientific and mathematical problems. The winners' high schools received workstations and communication links to the Internet.

This report presents the findings of an external research project that evaluated the program. Participating schools, teachers, and students from each of the six years of the program (1989-95) were included in the study. We sought to understand the qualities of the program as it was experienced by various stakeholders and school sites, its degree of success, and factors that may have mediated impacts.

This evaluation consisted of two levels of data collection. At the first level, data were collected for all schools who have participated in the program since its beginning. A second, more intensive, level of data was collected from a sample of schools selected to represent a range of experience with SuperQuest.

Comprehensive questionnaires were distributed to all SuperQuest teachers and students. In addition to the questionnaires, for schools in the intensive sample, individual in-depth interviews were conducted with SuperQuest teachers, non-SuperQuest teachers, key administrators and a sample of students. Structured observations also were conducted in the SuperQuest teachers' classrooms, when feasible. In addition, we visited four of the five participating SuperQuest Centers (we did not visit Sandia National Laboratories since it only participated for one year). And we reviewed SuperQuest's documentation.

The experience of the SuperQuest program was remarkably positive for many of the schools, teachers, and students involved. Examining the data gathered from 50 percent of participating teachers between 1988 and 1994 who represent 30 of the 42 sites, from 35 percent of the SQ students during this time period, and from close examination of the success and mediating factors in 14 of the schools, it is apparent that SQ had a substantial impact for many of them.

As with other innovations in education, among the contributing success factors, a supportive school administration is key. Adequate technical support is also key. Lack of timely and cost effective technical support was the key reason why some of the schools were not successful after the institute experience.

For many, SQ provided the first, and early, contact for the school and students with the Internet. This aspect of the SQ technology appeared to have especially valuable repercussions in many cases, helping the students and their projects, helping the teachers and their professional expertise, and helping the schools to be local leaders in early experiments with connectivity.

Based on these analysis, we suggest some design implications for SQ and similar projects.

  1. The SQ program is somewhat unusual in that both teachers and students were sponsored to attend the institutes. While teacher-only institutes would be more cost effective in reaching more teachers, there is evidence that the involvement of students in this program was important for its stability and spread back at the schools.
  2. Given the varying levels of teacher expertise, it appears important to design a teacher-only component of the institute experience.
  3. Schools must be made technically-able quickly following the institute.
  4. Rethink the "mentor" role. It would be advantageous to more closely match mentors with expertise needed for student projects.
  5. Incorporate the labs into the decision-making process for assigning winning teams to institutes.
  6. Facilitate an on-line community of SQ teachers.
  7. Application materials might contain encouragement and guidelines about including girls and minorities, perhaps pointing teachers to information and training concerning diversity and science.


Daniel Light
Jan Hawkins
Clareann Grimaldi